Tag Archives: marriage

Millennials and Marriage

Who is a Millennial? Someone born in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. The term was coined based on the idea that children born in 1982 would graduate from high school at the start of the next millennium.

The Pew Research Center reports that Millennials:

  • Are more likely to still live at home with their parents
  • They have now overtaken Baby Boomers as the largest generation
  • They tend to be less religious than previous generations
  • Currently they experience more financial burden
  • This slice of the population is more racially diverse
  • They are less trusting of others
  • Typically are more politically liberal
  • They are the first generation to be digital natives

Despite some of the research you have read and even some of the magazine covers (designed to sell issues), Millennials are probably not that much different from any other generation. What’s different is the world around them in which they have to build themselves and forge paths toward their future.

A recent article in Relevant Magazine pointed out some alarming numbers when it comes to Millennials and marriage. I guess these are only alarming if you believe in marriage and it’s benefits for individuals and for society as a whole.

  • Younger people aren’t getting married at the same rate as previous generations
  • Cohabitation before marriage is now the new normal
  • Online solutions for starting relationships are increasing

Seems to me that what Millennials might need is some information to help them make wise decisions about their lives. Why is marriage good for individuals? People who are married live longer, report higher levels of personal happiness and are generally healthier, both physically and mentally. Children thrive at a much higher rate in married homes than in single parent or cohabiting homes. Overall, marriage and family is good for everyone involved, including all the rest of us. The higher the rates of marriage in a society, the great the economic and civic benefits for everyone in town.

To be honest with you, people still make bad decisions even when faced with facts to the contrary. I do, don’t you? This leads me to believe that what young people really need is not the will to make wise choices, but the environment in which to experience more options that are smart and healthy.

Where in the world is a millennial supposed to find someone to go on a date with these days? Because of technology (which was supposed to liberate us) work has now crossed the 9-5 borders. There are fewer and fewer “safe” public social venues. So often, today’s crowd offers an abundance of moral confusion instead of a confirming environment in which to seek meaningful connections.

What about your local church? Why is that the last place most young singles consider when thinking about a place to meet a great person to date?

Why does the local church not organize itself in such a way to facilitate healthy and meaningful relationship building among young people? I’m not talking about offering boring classes! Hip social experiences, adventures, concerts and nights out should be the new norm for the local church.

Maybe Millennials are just like every other generation before them, they just some help.

Who Stays Married Longer?

It looks like people who have had less sexual partners before marriage.

There is a National Survey of Family Growth with numbers from 2006-2010 that indicates, after the first five years of marriage, almost 95% of both men and women (who had only one sexual partner – each other) were still married. That percentage dramatically declines as the number of sexual partners before marriage increases.

It’s just a correlation – it doesn’t tell us which causes which. Does promiscuity before marriage cause the union to crumble afterwards? Is being married too much of a commitment for people who were promiscuous?

But it does indicate that lasting marriages and promiscuity don’t mix well.  Marriage has always been about someone else. Promiscuity has always been about me.

300-3-married-college

Our values about sexual behavior have dramatically changed in the recent decades.  Our behaviors may not have changed that much, but the stigma associated with having sex…

  • as a teenager, still in school,
  • before marriage,
  • on a first date,
  • with a stranger, or
  • with someone of the same sex

has faded as our values (what we believe) about freedom and sexual activity have changed, especially for women. People are acting and thinking differently about sexuality because American values about personal freedom, social liberty and individuality inspire new values and come into conflict with others.

If the local Christian community can’t demonstrate and communicate effectively the reasons and rewards for marriage, faithfulness, commitment and sacrifice, values that have sustained the family will never stick. Families will continue to fragment.

Never Let Go

Madeleine L'Engle reads with granddaughters Lena, left and Charlotte (now Charlotte Jones Voiklis). L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” became a favorite of young people, Voiklis says today, because “kids read it and understand that they are not being talked down to.” Illustrates KIDSPOST-WRINKLE (category l), by Moira E. McLaughlin (c) 2012, The Washington Post. Moved Wednesday, March 14, 2012. (MUST CREDIT: From Crosswicks)

“No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I’ve been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover. And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface. A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again — till next time. I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won’t stay submerged. And each time something has been learned under the waters; something has been gained; and a new kind of love has grown. The best I can ask for is that this love, which has been built on countless failures, will continue to grow. I can say no more than that this is mystery, and gift, and that somehow or other, through grace, our failures can be redeemed and blessed.”

Madeleine L’Engle

In this day and age – family is sometimes all you’ve got. So many around us don’t even have that. Fragments are all that’s left. L’Engle describes her marriage as a construction project that travels like a roller coaster up and down through life. I get the sense that she felt it was something worth hanging on to – a relationship like no other that couldn’t be found elsewhere. A relationship that mattered, for the sake of her children, for the sake of her spouse and always – through the long haul – for her own sake.

  • We sometimes get exasperated with one another too quickly. Family has to learn how to stick it out to the bitter end. Take a long road trip together or get snowed in during Christmas.  Make sure there’s only one bathroom.
  • When you’re feeling sorry for yourself is the best time to start doing something for others. Families are where our children learn to live by seeing examples. Show them how to give instead of take.
  • Call your adult children and ask them how you can pray for them this week. Be sure you pray and then follow up, keep following up. Tell your children how they can pray for you.
  • Treat each moment together as if it were you last. That helps you to put things into better perspective. It helps you to stay in the moment and not lose sight of what is really important – right now.
  • The most important activity that members of a relationship and families learn how to do is to “get over themselves.”

The building of relationships is an ongoing project of success and failure. All that matters is that we never give up. Marriage and family takes work – a task that each generation has to put it’s shoulder to with a committed heart. No half measures will work. It’s encouraging to read the words of famous figures who affirm what a difficult journey it often is. It’s typically very discouraging to see every single week another famous couple calling it quits and then rationalizing their failure as a sensible decision. Your children have been raised watching this “play” over and over again. It will compete with the story you tell with your own lives together.

Building a civilization is accomplished in each daily decision to . It’s never perfect, it’s but a love built on failure, it is a mystery that can endure.

“In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts…”Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

How Good is Being Alone?

o-MEN-WOMEN-DIFFERENCES-facebook

I was reading the review of a book the other day. All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by journalist Rebecca Traister traces the history and the changing role of single women in our history. According to the Census, there are now more single women than married. How did that happen?

The status of women, families and marriage is undergoing dramatic change in our society. Here is an interview with Traister where she points out some of the most significant demographic changes that she has written about in her book. An important fact she points out:

One of the most startling statistics is that today only 20 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 are married, and that compares to 60 percent in 1960. The other figure that I find very startling, in part because it was so resilient for so long, is the median age of first marriage for women. From the time they started recording it — which was 1890 — until 1980, that median age of first marriage for women fluctuated only between 20 and 22. … In 1990 it jumped to over 23, which is a huge jump from having been in that small range for so long. Today, for women, it is over 27. So if you’re just looking at the sort of historical picture, there’s this relatively flat line for almost 100 years and now there’s not just a jump over that line, but way over that line.

I’m a sociologist. When I see changes like this I want to know about what’s happening in other dimensions of our society. There’s an interconnection between all things. Higher levels of education for women, a transforming service/information economy, higher income equality for women, shrinking size of family, more family debt, higher levels of choice in all areas of life, exploding access to social media…phenomena like these all have an influence and even causal effect on why changes occur in marriages and families.

There’s so much changing all around us. Of course we will see effects of these changes in places like our relationships and institutions like family.

We are studying Genesis in my Sunday School class. God proclaims everything he makes to be good. Then he creates man and sees that he is alone and declares that this is not good.

Our society is now trying to figure out all sorts of ways to solve this eternal problem. Marriage used to be the best solution. Now only half of adults live with a spouse, the other  half are cohabiting, living alone or are in some other arrangement. 40% of cohabiters break up within five years.

It seems that we are trying to piece together fragments and shadows of something we know to be better. What we have ended up with are too many people alone – for whatever reason. And that is still not good.

“The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!”  -Edith Wharton

Motherhood and Role Strain

Happy_family

I got a great blog post sent to me this past week by my dean. It’s all about the role of motherhood these days here in America. The writer traces the ways it has been overcomplicated and presents contradictory expectations to young women and families. It’s a great read that I highly recommend:

We’ve Overcomplicated Motherhood Because We Don’t Like It

I was thinking about this article today when I overheard a celebrity on a talk show recounting the narrative of her recent courtship, marriage and birth of first child. I can’t remember if it went in that order, you know how it is these days. She said something very much off the cuff that stuck with me. She was talking about her wedding and she said something like , “we’re a modern couple so having a wedding wasn’t important to us.” I wondered what she meant by that.

Since 1960 the percentage of Americans 18 and older who are divorced or have never married has doubled (from 20% to 40%). I’m not sure that being modern means that people don’t want to get married, I think what’s happened is that young adults are afraid of failure. Marriage and all that it represents can seem like a daunting challenge, especially with the failures of their own parents’ relationship and some of the way’s it’s been overcomplicated. In a recent Pew study, 55% of American singles reported that they were not in a relationship and were NOT even looking for a partner. Over half the single population has given up on marriage (or even living together).

All of this brings me back to a concept that my sociology students were trying to learn last week. Role Strain describes the phenomenon of being overwhelmed by the expectations coming at us from a single social position we occupy, like being a mom, a dad or a spouse. Sometimes this “job” is just too much.

  • The expectations become unrealistic. Television, books, friends, and family can pressure us into believing we’ve got to get everything just right.
  • The lack of a support system often makes being a parent and/or spouse even more difficult. As our families become more fragmented we lose connection with an extended family that can provide experience and resources to help ease normal strains.

We experience role strain because we can’t physically, mentally, socially, or spiritually manage some of these expectations. These strains can come and go with each stage of a role but a feeling of strain can also persist with the everyday expectations and solitary nature of many family situations. The Overcomplicated Motherhood blog post details much about these kinds of unrealistic expectations.

It was interesting to read my young college students’ examples of role strain. Many chose parenting or being a spouse. It was discouraging to see the level of fatal and insurmountable difficulty that they imagine for their possible futures.

Americans have built an instant gratification society. we really don’t like to suffer discomfort. We don’t even like to wait too long in the drive-thru line!

No wonder marriage and family are fading. It costs much and our collective character is too weak to bear the burden.

“Motherhood is a choice you make everyday, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.”   – Donna Ball

Decisive Marriage

2013-08-01-KidsMarried

“If I get married, I want to be very married.”
– Audrey Hepburn

A recent article in the NY Times summarizes some very important research about marriage. The findings are from the National Marriage Project report. One key finding that Times columnist Tara Parker-Pope wrote about was:

Sliding versus deciding. Couples who make intentional decisions regarding “major relationship transitions” are more likely to flourish than those who slide through transitions.

Apparently when couples treat their relationships as a big deal, when they decide to get married and go through with all the formalities, when they invest time, emotions and even wealth into their commitment to one another – their relationship tends to flourish.

Wow.

Don’t you love it when science confirms common sense? What we invest ourselves into ultimately grows in value. It reminds me of one those online dating commercials. The guy asks this woman how she goes about finding someone to date and she gets this confused look on her face and says, “well, I just bump into people.” Or something like that.

Casual relationships don’t produce lasting families or fertile habitations in which to nurture children. Cautious love is always ready to fall apart. It waits for it around each and every crisis. Rather than clinging together when the storms come, spontaneous lovers are always looking over their should to be certain the other person hasn’t jumped out of the lifeboat.

Our culture now values casual sex as a way to appease our appetites. Just sit down one evening and watch a little TV. Casual sex is the norm now. All stigma have been removed from sexual promiscuity. (I’m not even sure that it’s possible to be promiscuous anymore, regardless of how you behave.) There are no more sexual deviants in our popular culture.

But we have always had deeper needs for relationship, commitment, and security. There’s just not a selfish way to make these come true. Popular culture gives us a laugh and erodes our common sense. It’s a bag of potato chips. Wonderful to sit down with but we all know it’s never going to give us any nourishment. What’s on next?

Yet decisive relationships are never free from injury or pain. Thoughtful relationships can hurt us deeply whether they are investments into the lives of people, career, or dreams. These days we are so afraid to risk. We have witnessed too much brokenness and bitterness a la the freak show that is now reality TV.  Who wants to stick their neck out? Perhaps it will turn into a noose?

“If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.”  – Clint Eastwood

But that’s what life is meant to be, a risk. Because if you hang on to your life, your hopes and every little dream, they will turn to dust. You have to stick your neck out. You have to dream big and never stop hoping.

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
– Langston Hughes

What Is Linklater’s “Boyhood” About?

dsc04983.a6csg8yp6gw088wo80go808gw.594zrl0ettogcw0wkgwccgk80.th.jpeg

“He promised us that everything would be okay. I was a child, but I knew that everything would not be okay. That did not make my father a liar. It made him my father.”  – Jonathan Safran Foer

Did you see native Houstonian Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking film Boyhood yet? If you haven’t, then go see it THEN come back to read this post…

Everyone is talking about Boyhood because the film is a “documentary” of the life of Mason Jr. as he develops from a 6 year old until he arrives at college. The film took twelve years to make because he documented the same actor (Ellar Coltrane) throughout his progression through his “boyhood.”  This is what seems so remarkable to everyone. While watching the film one is dazzled at how seamless the transformations occur as Mason grows into adulthood. Of course we have all been raised on special effects and nothing should amaze us anymore. Perhaps what makes audiences so appreciative is the fact that they are witnessing a normal human process take place right before their eyes. A process that everyone witnesses all around them every single day, but probably takes for granted.

What was amazing to me about the film was something else.  While Mason was growing up in a single-parent home (as more than 40% of American children today are) he experienced many of the problems associated with this kind of life. Ultimately, upon reaching adulthood and launching off to college, Mason seemed completely lost and lacking any sort of direction and connection to meaning. For me it was a tragic story because I read the reports and know that this movie was probably very similar to the real experience of many of today’s teens and young adults. The most bitter aspect of this tragedy is that our society seems oblivious to what’s happening to our children because of our fickle commitment to family.

  • Mason was an unplanned birth by two young parents who divorced and did not maintain a healthy communication with one another.
  • Mason’s father was eager to create a meaningful relationship with his children but his own lifestyle prevented much stability. He only made sporadic visits. His children were unable to watch him model as a parent.
  • Mason’s mother, like most single moms, worked hard to make ends meet and ultimately decided to go back to school to increase her chances of a better paying job. This meant less time with her children as they were growing up. When she was with her children, time was not spent providing order and discipline but trying to create a close friendship.
  • The family, like most single families had to move and the children had to leave friends and schools behind. This created a level of constant chaos and emotional anxiety in their lives.
  • New stepfathers and step-families were created along the way as Mason’s mother tried to provide a better life for herself and her family. This often ended up exposing her children to unhealthy relationships, more abandonment and cynicism about adults.
  • Both Mason and his sister were initiated into drug use, alcohol and sex at an early age. Their mother seemed to condone the behavior, maintaining a friendship being her ultimate goal.
  • When Mason did have experiences with adults who tried to instill in him useful social values it was typically someone who he did not respect or who sounded like a step-father from his haunted past. Mason’s own father encouraged him as a free spirit while he himself was selling his hot rod and buying a mini-van.
  • An ironic scene in the film, Mason’s mother is teaching a college course in psychology. The lecture she is giving in this scene is about British psychologist John Bowlby and his attachment theory. Infant’s healthy attachments to primary caregivers (mothers and fathers) are essential for their later emotional development.
  • The actor who played Mason Jr., Ellar Coltrane, experienced the break up of his own family while he was making this film. He reports that one of the film crew ended up teaching him how to drive when it came time to get his license. That’s an important rite of passage for a son.

For me it was a very haunting experience as the film ended with Mason walking through the Big Bend scenery at sunset. He has traveled to the end of his childhood and was just as lost as a baby would have been. He was never given the healthy grounding in reality, the basic lessons about life, the foundational experiences of love and acceptance that all children ought to have in order to make a healthy and strong start to live.

I’m not naive, I realize that teens rebel and college kids can get really flaky. That’s not what I’m talking about here. Linklater wrote a script that seemed to present Mason as a harmless, sweet, genial yet completely lost young man once he journeyed off to college. He didn’t have anything to rebel against. In the film Mason’s mother and father never really spent the consistent and constant time instilling into him by their presence and practice what it means to love and be loved.

No one has a perfect family to grow up in. That’s not the point. My large point is that we are witnessing the disintegration of the core social institution in our civilization and no one seems very bothered. Less than 20% of American households are made up of a married couple with children. No one is raising any alarms. No one is calling it what it is – The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

When the film ended I was sitting in the the theater trying to catch my breath and process what I had just witnessed. I could hear people around me standing up and clapping.

“Civilization is a race between disaster and education.”  – H.G. Wells

What Marriage Are We Defending?

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians and admonished the husbands to love their wives the way that Christ loved the church – by sacrificing his life for it (Eph 5:25).

The Supreme Court has heard cases regarding same-sex marriage and made a significant ruling last year.  All of the talking heads on television are all over it. Opinions are running riot through the air waves. The American public seems to have dramatically shifted in it’s opinion on the matter.

The Defense of Marriage Act is a federal law that defines marriage and limits it to a legal union between one male and one female. It was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. It has now been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (5-4).

Former Secretary of State and Senator and First Lady Hillary Clinton has decided that she might want to run for president again. She’s come out and changed her position on same-sex marriage.  Of course, now that she’s going to run and the political winds have changed, former President Bill Clinton changed his mind too. That’s sort of what he’s famous for – jumping on whatever’s popular at the time. He’s a very successful Southern politician.

But what if all of this isn’t really about same-sex marriage?  What if our cultural anomie about marriage is an effect of something deeper – at the very heart of our civilization? What if we have slowly yet deliberately changed the very meaning of marriage?

What if marriage in our society has evolved from a union between a man and a woman for the purposes of…

  1. expressing intimacy and sacrifice,
  2. producing and raising children, and
  3. making a living together

,,,to something more immediate?

What if the real reason we get married today is because we are seeking emotional happiness and personal satisfaction with our own life?

Is it possible that the most important reason that I would get married today is because I am seeking fulfillment for emotional needs in my life (at least those that I am aware of right now)?

“I want to get married because of what it can give to me.”

I wonder if marriage is no longer mainly a domain of sacrifice and commitment but instead has been transformed to one of personal need fulfillment and a “happiness retreat” from the impersonal world of work.

Our culture has become so successful that we really don’t need other people for personal interaction. We just need people to show up and do their jobs. (Or so we think). What we can’t get from the drive-thru or the computer screen is love and happiness. As humans we need this, so we seek it in cohabitation and marriage. When happiness fades, we move on.

I think we’ve changed the purpose of marriage without even realizing it. So now, it makes perfect sense to base marriage, partner selection and even having children on individual wish fulfillment criteria.

“This makes me happy right now, so it must be the right thing to do.”

America is one of the few societies in the history of the world to base marriage almost solely on romantic love.

Members of a society who think and act like this are not at all concerned with the social repercussions of their behavior. Year after year I have shown classrooms of students research findings on the devastating effects of divorce on children. But over and over again these same students overwhelmingly answer “YES” to the statement “if two people are not happy together, even if they have children, they should get divorced.”

(Many of these ideas are from the late Judith Wallerstein)

I think we have to figure out what marriage means before we can even begin to debate who can be married.

[Did you know that over 40% of children in America are born out of wedlock?]

The world we live in has changed (it always does), our social institutions have changed. I’m not certain our values have kept up. Marriage and family isn’t a political platform plank. It more resembles the mortar and brick with which our civilization is built. As you look up and down your street, listen to the news, watch the elections, read the magazines, what is OUR civilization being transformed into for the next generation?

“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”  Pope John Paul II (1986)

Divorce is on the Decline!

The good news is that divorce in America has been on a steady decline. Most of my college students believe that it is a number that’s always increasing. They tend to be very cynical about marriage.

You ought to think about two other trends as well. The rate of marriage is on the decline in our country and the percentage of couples cohabitating is increasing.

CHART

National Health Statistics Report: First Premarital Cohabitation

The fragile economy, shifting job market, and history of divorce have all contributed to making marriage a frightening proposition for many college students. Typically, people who live together before they get married have a higher chance of divorce. The immediacy of experience seems to be a risk worth taking since so much of the future is a dark mystery.

Questions That Can’t Be Ignored

“Everyone is guilty at one time or another of throwing out questions that beg to be ignored, but mothers seem to have a market on the supply. “Do you want a spanking or do you want to go to bed?” Don’t you want to save some of the pizza for your brother?” Wasn’t there any change?”   – Erma Bombeck

When Did Family Go Out of Business?

Nuclear Family Becomes Obsolete

I think what is being communicated here is that there’s still a chance for you and your children. Our society has decided to sanction (by de-stigmatizing) fatherless families, living together, and divorce (to mention a few). There are always causes and consequences. If we dismantle the family we will miss many of its taken-for-granted functions. Just because early and small studies indicate that the consequences aren’t that severe doesn’t necessarily mean that these are smart choices. Right?

What About Our Children?

My wife’s favorite television show is Parenthood. Often she is yelling at the characters on screen because of the poor decisions they are making. Don’t you talk back to your TV? What really bothers her the most is when parents put their own wants and desires ahead of the basic needs (emotional, spiritual, social) of their own children. What gets me talking back is the fact that in the television script this kind of behavior is portrayed as very normal, almost natural.

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead wrote that a significant transition occurred after WWII. Family stopped being an experience defined in terms of sacrifice and investment in others (spouse and children). Families have now been transformed into a place where the adults are supposed to find fulfillment – often at the expense of everyone else involved.

Is This The Way We Want to Live?

Students in my classes consistently vote for divorce and the hope of happiness rather than sacrifice and the health/well-being of children. Perhaps they are only reflecting their own experiences and youthful interpretation of the frightening world around them. I’m still not sure they understand the consequences of their choices.

“Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.
‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.
‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.
‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.” 
— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland